The Book of Mormon is purported to be “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” and “a volume of Scripture comparable to the Bible.” When people ask whether they should read the Book of Mormon I always ask why they would want to. I understand the fascination Mormonism has for people but its fascination can blind people to its danger.
Some think that if they acquaint themselves with the Book of Mormon Christians will be better prepared to witness to Mormons. I have seen the Book of Mormon used to very good effect by those who know what they are doing but, especially here Beyond the Zion Curtain there are three good reasons why you shouldn’t bother.
That surprised you, didn’t it? The Book of Mormon is claimed by Mormons to be the “keystone of our religion”, yet it may astonish you to know that most of the things for which Mormonism is best known are as absent from the Book of Mormon as they are from the Bible. When a Mormon speaks of priesthood authority, for instance, the last source he will appeal to is the Book of Mormon; there is nothing about the familiar Mormon priesthood in the Book of Mormon.
The same is true of a pre-mortal existence, a council of the gods, a war in heaven, the Mormon plan of salvation, eternal progression, degrees of glory, celestial marriage, polygamy, temple ceremonies, baptism for the dead, God as an exalted man and men becoming gods, all are absent from the Book of Mormon although all are key Mormon doctrines. In truth the Book of Mormon serves just three purposes:
1. Written in faux King James English the Book of Mormon sounds like the Bible. Couched in that familiar language it authenticates itself in that it contains uncontroversial teachings such as God as Creator (1 Nephi 17:36) and omniscient (Mosiah 4:9) death resulting from the fall of man etc (2 Nephi 9:6). But these familiar teachings will be redefined later when Mormon authority is established.
2. It goes on to cast serious doubt about the Bible, telling a story of murdered apostles, corrupt priests, unauthorised and extensive changes to the biblical text resulting in spiritual darkness and the need for restoration (1 Nephi 13)
3. Finally, the Book of Mormon is offered as “proof” that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration, evidence of his calling. It sounds like the Bible, contains familiar and uncontroversial teachings, comes as a timely warning about apostasy and “restores” doctrines lost when the Bible fell into the hands of “profane and corrupt translators.”
But those “restored” doctrines are nowhere to be found in the Book of Mormon, no priesthood, pre-mortal existence, a council of the gods, a war in heaven, the Mormon plan of salvation, eternal progression, degrees of glory, celestial marriage, polygamy, temple ceremonies, baptism for the dead, God as an exalted man and men becoming gods...Yes, it’s a circular argument and careful attention will show that the Book of Mormon doesn’t teach these things; it simply clears the way so that they may be taught.
It’s their territory
Even if you pick up some tips and wrinkles by reading the book you will not know the territory as a Mormon would. Just consider the fact that Mormonism cannot be found in the Book of Mormon. Once you discover this what will you do? You will challenge your Mormon friend about this but soon you will find yourself following a Mormon through the well rehearsed “explanations” about continuing revelation, down the rabbit hole to the maze of Mormonism for which you are ill-prepared because you spent so much time reading the Book of Mormon - which doesn’t contain Mormon teaching.
Added to which is the obstacle of perception and familiarity. In the mind of a Mormon, even one who doesn’t know so much, he has the inside track and you don’t. You will always be wrong-footed with endless supplies of explanations that explain nothing, understandings you don’t understand and revelations that reveal little more than your ignorance of the Mormon mindset. A way of thinking with which your Mormon friend feels quite at home but you find unfamiliar, strange, even bizarre.
Like Alice hearing the apparently familiar words uttered by the Queen of Hearts and her court you will feel you ought to understand but really have no idea what it all means and before you know it a sort of disorientation sets in. The best you can do is go along with it until you see or hear something familiar but nothing you can get a firm grasp of comes.
It feels that it might, that it should because they do talk about the Bible and use what appear to be familiar Christian terms but not in the familiar Christian way. And the Book of Mormon has not prepared you for this either because the way Mormons talk is as unrelated to the Book of Mormon as the things they believe.
This is where the real danger lies because some mistake this unfamiliarity for new knowledge, revelation, and proof that Joseph Smith was a prophet. But this is not revelation and what you have taken for new insights is an old deception dressed in new clothes.
It was Satan who tempted Eve with the promise of godhood (Genesis 3:5), the pagans of Babel who built temples for instruction to guide them past sentinels to get to heaven (Gen.11:4), Israel who were warned about making a covenant with death (Is.28:15), the early church that was warned against “myths, and endless genealogies” (1 Tim.1:4; Titus 3:9). And so a practical familiarity with the Bible, rather then with the Book of Mormon, begins to lay bare what is truly familiar about Mormon doctrine.
It’s the wrong direction
Too much witnessing to Mormons involves talking too much about Mormonism. There, I’ve said it. Mormonism is fascinating to people and, having developed a little interest, it is easy to talk about it for hours, convincing ourselves that we are confidently meeting Mormons on their own turf. There are circumstances in which this is all-too-necessary but, as engaging as is the strange history and dubious progress of Mormonism it is a progress in the wrong direction.
A Mormon will want to inform you about all those Mormon teachings that are absent from the Book of Mormon. In which case he will use the book simply as a jumping off point to introduce other sources and authorities, i.e. modern prophets. It is, therefore, not a discussion of the Book of Mormon. It is, in reality, a discussion of Mormonism compared with the Bible, of whose lost truths Mormonism claims to be a restoration. So why not simply go directly to the Bible?
The aim of all witnessing is to bring people to the cross (Lk.24:45-48; Acts 2:22-24; 1 Cor.2:2). As we “go into all the world” we will, like Paul, come across all sorts of philosophies and religious ideas but, like Paul, we must keep in sight that single biblical imperative to preach Christ and him crucified. This is biblical truth.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Athens where Paul, in just ten verses, goes from acknowledging the piety of the Athenians to delivering a gospel message (Acts 17:21-31) identifying three key truths:
1. There is only one God and he doesn’t live in man-made temples
2. God wants us to seek him and be reconciled to him
3. A day is set when he will judge by the one he raised from the dead
In his letter to Christians in Corinth Paul identified those things that are “of first importance...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures...” (1 Cor.15:3-4, ESV) These “fundamentals” are all biblical truths.
Fortunately, unlike the Athenians, Mormons use and claim to believe in the Bible. If there is any common ground then it is the Christian Scriptures. If there is a right direction of travel it is the shortest route to the cross. If there is anything a Mormon needs to know above all else it is the Bible’s good news message that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us...while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son...” (Ro.5:8-10)
Here, Beyond the Zion Curtain, where there are no Mormon cities and towns, businesses, politics, historical baggage, pageants, historical sites, no plethora of temples, no strong Mormon culture to confront and overcome, the route to the cross can be short indeed. Why make it longer than it needs to be by reading the Book of Mormon and tangling with Mormonism more than you have to? Why not read the Bible, which is relevant, is our territory and takes the right direction?